I remember the broken zipper of the Homecoming gown in the dressing room.
The way my mom pursed her lips when I asked if she could bring me the next size up. “That’s an XL, Blythe. There is no next size up. That’s the biggest size it comes in,” she sighed, the hint of disappointment in her voice as subtle as a spritz of perfume.
The embarrassment of the junior high gym class shorts.
How they rode up between my thighs.
The popular girls who finished the mile several laps before I did.
How they watched me from the bleachers. How they giggled like paper cuts.
I remember Shapedown, the local Weight Watchers program for obese and overweight children.
The link to miracle weight loss supplements a friend’s mother forwarded to me in an email.
The first time a belt dug into my stomach so hard it left imprints on my skin.
The shame when I realized it was already on the loosest notch.
Stumbling upon the pro-anorexia forums and thinspiration on Tumblr.
The realization my body was a pressing issue that desperately needed to be fixed.
* * *
I lost about a third of my original body weight in less than three months.
During my lunch period, I walked laps around the hallways.
I got used to the fainting and the dizzy spells. I was barely eating.
The hallways became a red carpet.
My classmates became hounding paparazzi.
“How’d you do it? What’s your secret?” they’d hiss at me in the school bathroom. I wondered if they could hear my stomach whine.
“Exercise and healthy eating,” I’d lie.
Suddenly, it seemed like everyone cared what I had to say. I had never felt so seen or acknowledged in my entire life. Well-intentioned people constantly told me how proud they were of me.
For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be the popular girl.
Or at least feel like one.
I was terrified to gain any weight or attempt recovery because I worried everyone would be disappointed in me. I didn’t want to let anybody down.
I felt like my eating disorder was everyone’s favorite thing about me. I internalized the misplaced idea that I needed to continue starving myself if I wanted to keep up my newfound significance.
* * *
It created a sharp dichotomy within myself: to suddenly be applauded and noticed and admired for the very thing that was killing me.
It’s so hard to let go of the one thing that made people see you as something besides the fat girl.
When fat people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they have made healthy lifestyle adjustments. When skinny people lose a significant amount of weight, we assume they are sick and in need of medical attention.
When I got sick, nobody ever seemed worried. Nothing led me to believe it would be a good idea to attempt recovery. While I was starving myself, I received constant positive reinforcement in every aspect of my life.
I wrote “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” because I was frustrated.
I was frustrated because I was starving myself and all anybody could say to me was how amazing I looked now. How inspiring my rapid weight loss was to them. How badly they wanted to know the magic pill or diet behind my secret to success.
I wanted to write about how people react to eating disorders.
I wanted people to know how harmful their well-intentioned encouragement was.
People’s positive reactions are what made me cling to my disorder. Those reactions made me feel like it was way more important to be thin than it was to recover.
I want our culture to examine how our actions and words perpetuate and encourage eating disorders.
* * *
When I remember the months of starving, it is hard to picture anything except the bathroom and how it became my sanctuary wherever I went. At home, every morning I would go to the bathroom and then weigh myself, put on makeup and then weigh myself again.
When I think of the era my disordered eating was at its worst, I am always teleported back to my bathroom: the headquarters of my illnesses.
In the “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” short film, the director Abby Thompson and I wanted to use the bathroom as a metaphor for my anorexia and bulimia. My eating disorder felt like an environment I couldn’t escape, so I figured if I was going to be stuck there anyways, I might as well make it into a comfortable home.
* * *
If you are still struggling with an eating disorder, remember that while your eating disorder is not a choice, recovery is. Recovery is the most important decision I have ever made for myself. However, it was not a singular choice—every day, I have to choose recovery. Sometimes, I still have to force myself to eat, even if I don’t want to, even if I don’t feel hungry when my body needs food. I want you to know that the choice does get easier.
One day, the painful years you spent trapped in a blur of bathroom scales and counting will be just a vivid dream-like memory, not a daily reality. One day, you will become the nurturing and caring parent that your body always wished for. One day, the waitress will ask if you want dessert and you will say yes and you will eat the best chocolate cake of your life and it will taste so much better than skinny ever, ever felt.